Day 5 |
Feb 02, 2009

South Shetland Islands

By Berenice Charpin

Noon Position: 5448.6’S 6818.0’W

Weather: Superb with clearing skies, air temperature + 15o C (48o F), and wind 12 km/hour

During the night, the Prince Albert II sailed quietly to the west across the Bransfield Strait that lies between the Antarctic Peninsula and the South Shetland Islands. Early in the morning, we landed at Yankee Harbour, a sheltered area with a prominent gravel spit extending far out into the harbour. It was a fairly windy day but nevertheless, we jumped into the Zodiacs and went to shore.

Point. The harbour was well known to American and British sealers as early as 1820. And, as a matter of fact, the very first thing we encountered as we got off the boats was a sealing trypot from this period. These large pots were the ones used to boil the seal blubber (fat) and had a characteristic flat side that prevented it from moving constantly while carried on ships.

Along the beach, there were many young Gentoo Penguins gathered in groups, walking to and fro. Most of them seemed willing to go into the water, but they still have to change their warm down feathers for the adult-looking waterproof ones. Southern Giant Petrels and Skuas were flying around, maybe looking for a potential penguin meal! In the background, we could see cliffs rise over 200 meters to a rugged, knife-edge summit.

Later in the morning, weather conditions improved so we could see the massive glaciers of Greenwich Island as well as Livingston Island to the north.

While we were enjoying lunch, our vessel was repositioned in the vicinity of Half Moon Island. This is a 1.25-mile-long, crescent-shaped island lying on the east side of Livingston Island. The island was known by sealers as early as 1821. The old wooden boat that we saw on the beach next to the landing site belongs to the whaling era.

As we walked up and left the beach behind, we encountered Chinstrap Penguin colonies. The chicks were still on the nests and the adults were busy either going towards the sea or coming back to the colonies. We could also spot many Kelp Gulls, Snowy Sheathbills, Antarctic Terns and Wilson Storm Petrels flying around. All these birds also breed on the lichen-covered outcrops of the island.

Today's afternoon turned out to be an outstanding one. As visibility improved, we realized the landscape was stunning: the sun was shining and the views of the hilly, glacier-covered Livingston Island were simply breathtaking. We walked to many different directions enjoying the sunshine. Many of us made it to the Argentine Camara Station, a summer facility that does geological survey. We were welcomed by the Station's staff and they kindly told us about the tasks they carry out.

Once back onboard, the Prince Albert II headed for the Gerlache Strait, southeast of the South Shetland Islands.